In my take on the WEP August 2022 challenge, Moonlight Sonata, my heroine Altenay, the Finder in a fantasy land, is searching for a musical instrument – a lira.
The music sang over the hills, the notes rising and falling, sparkling like tears. The moon, huge and low, shimmered over the horizon, as if commiserating with the mournful melody.
Altenay sat quietly. She wanted to weep from the beauty and sorrow of the chords. “That must be what I’m seeking,” she whispered after a while. She didn’t want the music to stop, but she had a job to do. This morning, the dean of the city music academy had asked her to locate a stolen lira.
“It is the Lira of Pangian,” the dean had said reverently. “The legends say gods created it. It sounds sublime. The old minstrel who owned it died, but before his death, a year ago, he donated the lira to us, to pass on to the next outstanding performer. It’s priceless. It can’t be sold, only bestowed: an award for excellence. We promised it as a prize in our music competition. The competition starts tomorrow, but someone stole the lira. Could you Find it?”
“Yes,” Altenay said. “I’m a Finder. That’s what I do, but I need something connected to the thing I seek, something that’s been in contact with it for a long time. Something that belongs to it.”
“How about its bow?” the dean asked. “The old busker had used it for years. It is still in the case.” He nodded at the open leather lira case on his desk.
As soon as Altenay touched the bow, she knew she would find its lira. Her Finder magic unfurled eagerly. It felt faint but steady, slightly gray at the edges—the lira was some distance away.
“It isn’t in the city,” Altenay said. “It’ll take me a while to bring it back. Maybe a full day.”
“As long as it’s here by the end of the competition,” the dean said.
“Why didn’t you try to find it before?”
“We didn’t know it was missing.” The dean’s face pinkened. “It was in its case, in the instrument storage. We didn’t have a reason to open the case.”
“So it could’ve been stolen months ago? Or last week?”
“Yes.” He winced.
Altenay stashed the bow in her satchel and fingered it occasionally to give her directions, as she drove her hired donkey cart. It was an uneventful journey through a peaceful countryside, but now, she finally arrived. Her Finder magic zoomed right on the dilapidated farmhouse in front of her.
The moonlight camouflaged its general air of neglect, but nothing could conceal the broken roof over one wing or the weeds crowding the driveway. She snapped the reins to get the donkey moving again towards the house, while the music swirled around her, glittering and mysterious.
Time to kill the music, Altenay thought regretfully. The lira was in this house. She stopped the cart, jumped off, and mounted the creaking stairs.
For luck, she touched her tubeteika and flicked the little beads decorating the fringe as she knocked on the warped door. Midnight wasn’t the best time for a visit, but someone was playing inside, obviously not asleep.
Altenay felt sorry when the music petered off. Her entire body clenched in regret. A moment later, the door jerked open. A tall young woman in the doorway had long dark hair. Moonlight framed her with a silvery aura. One of her hands still clutched a bow, similar to the one Altenay had used to guide her here.
The girl eyed Altenay belligerently. “What do you want?”
“I’m a Finder,” Altenay said. “I was contracted by the dean of the music academy to find the Lira of Pangian. I’m guessing you’ve stolen it. You must give it back.”
The girl glared at her.
“Look,” Altenay said. “I don’t wish you any trouble. If you give it back, I won’t tell anyone about you. There won’t be any consequences.”
“I’m not giving it back,” the girl spat. “It’s mine. It belongs to me.”
“No, it belongs to the academy. The old minstrel—”
“He was my grandfather. He didn’t have the rights to give it away,” the girl said fiercely. “The Lira of Pangian has belonged to my grandmother’s family for generations. She couldn’t play as well as grandpa. She gave it to him to play, not to own. It was supposed to revert back to me after his death, but the old goat didn’t believe in women making music. Instead, he gave it to the academy. Do you know that only men could participate in their competition? A woman can’t even enter. My grandfather was a chauvinist. All those academy musicians are. The lira is mine. I can play it better than any of them.”
Altenay inhaled deeply. “I believe you,” she said. The music had been amazing, after all. “But I have a job to do. If I don’t bring back the lira, I’ll have to tell the dean where I found it. He would send the city guards.”
“Tell them you couldn’t find it,” the girl said. “I can pay you.”
Altenay shook her head. “That’s not how it works,” she said. “They’ll ask another Finder. I’m not the only Finder in the city. Someone else would also come straight here.”
The girl’s mouth pressed together in a tight, angry line. “This lira is mine,” she repeated.
Altenay thought furiously. She couldn’t deprive this girl of her music. But she should do her job too. “Maybe there is a solution,” she said. “You’re a musician. Do you have another lira?”
“Yes.” The girl’s brow furrowed. “I have another instrument. A good one. I’ve played it since I was a child.”
“Could I see them both?”
“Come in.” Sullenly, the girl stood aside. She led Altenay to a large and mostly empty room. Near a window stood a low rattan table with a lira on it and a chair beside it. The light of a single candle reflected off the worn, scratched lacquer of the wood and the faded, almost invisible design painted long ago on the lira’s body.
In another corner, on a stand, was another lira. It was in a much better condition and lavishly decorated.
Altenay’s magic splashed one last time and dissipated, as it always did when she reached her goal. “That is the Lira of Pangian?” Altenay pointed at the table.
The girl nodded.
“Give me another one.” Altenay pulled the bow out of her satchel. “And give me your bow. You played with it on this other lira, right?”
“Yes. For years.” The girl looked bewildered but willingly accepted the exchange of bows. “The bows are interchangeable. The music is in the body of the instrument. But they will know it is the wrong lira.”
“Who will know?” Altenay countered. “How many people will know?”
The girl shrugged. “My old lira is good too,” she said. “I planned to keep it, but…”
“It should work,” Altenay said. “But you’d better leave the city, at least for a while.”
“I plan to,” the girl said.
To Altenay’s delight, the switcheroo worked. Neither the bow nor the lira inspired her Finder magic to go anywhere. They obviously belonged to each other, so her magic stayed quiescent.
The dean was upset though. “This is wrong,” he mumbled.
“If you’re dissatisfied with my work,” Altenay said haughtily, “don’t pay me. Hire another Finder.”
The dean subsided. He did pay her. It made her ashamed of herself, just a little, to accept his payment, but overall, she didn’t regret her decision. Most of all, she wished to hear that girl play the Lira of Pangian again. At least once more in her life. The desire was sharpest on the nights of the full moon. Maybe one day, her wish would come true.
Tagline: Moonlight and music combine in mysterious ways.